But before I leap into this post, let me acknowledge one thing. Apparently, there are some theological issues worthy of discussion around Bethel Church and their understanding of apostleship and authority, as well as their practice of spiritual gifts.* While these are important topics, they won’t take us in the direction I want to pursue in this post.
Here, I only want to share five reasons why I love this song.
1. I love when ‘singing themes’ overlap with ‘preaching themes.’
In our church, we try to sing songs that share themes with the sermon. In other words, we try to sing what we preach and preach what we sing. This tends to help us, I believe, live what we preach.
Coordination between music and preaching doesn’t always work out, nor should it have to, but it is the ideal. And this spring, as we were teaching through Galatians, it was the perfect time to introduce “No Longer Slaves” since the song comes primarily from Galatians 4:4-7, 31 (and also Romans 8:12-16).
2. I love the powerful, gospel imagery.
Slavery. Bondage. Deliverance. These are explosive themes in our culture, like firecrackers dipped in gasoline and rolled in magnesium.
Consider the acclaim of a movie like “12 Years a Slave.” As a friend pointed out to me, the movie was nominated for 323 movie awards and won 164 of them, including three Academy Awards, a Golden Globe, and a Screen Actors Guild. Additionally, the movie has a 96% “fresh” score on Rotten Tomatoes despite being a very difficult movie to watch. It’s tough to find any movie with such a high score on RT.
It’s not just a cultural issue, either. Themes of slavery, bondage, and deliverance are supercharged biblical motifs, as well, motifs which reach their apex in the gospel message of Jesus Christ.
The gospel is the announcement that Messiah has come, and through his costly death and victorious resurrection, he’s delivered his people from slavery to sin, bringing them into the freedom of relationship with God.
Or, in short, the gospel is the announcement of how orphans become children and slaves become heirs.
And that’s something to sing about.
3. I love the line “All my fears were drowned in perfect love.”
I had missed it so many times, but on one morning as we sang it in church, I finally noticed it. The first two lines from the bridge go like this:
You split the sea, so I could walk right through it
All my fears were drowned in perfect love
Obviously, the imagery in the first line is from Exodus (“you split the sea…”), but finally, after listening to the song maybe 20 times, I noticed the same Exodus imagery in the second line as well: “All my fears were drowned in perfect love.”
In the Exodus, God splits the Red Sea; the Israelites walk through it; and then, the perfect and protecting love of God that parted the Sea for his people, then un-parts the Sea—drowning all the enemies of God’s people (“All my fears were drowned in perfect love”).
4. I love the warmth.
I love the line, “You surround me, with songs of deliverance, until all my fears are gone.” It reminds me that God, in all of his terrifying power, is my salvation.
We see similar reflection on God’s power and love in Psalm 136:10-17. In this passage, the “steadfast love” of God is repeatedly juxtaposed with God’s crushing power on display in Exodus. Just think, the mighty arms that drowned Pharaoh’s chariots are the same arms that embrace us in Jesus Christ.
5. I love the raw emotion.
Finally, I just love the raw emotion. Have you listened to the whole song? Have you heard the ending?
One of the volunteer music leaders at our church pointed this out to me. He told me that singing as Jonathan David Helser does near the end of the song, is not good for your vocal cords—not good at all. Apparently, it puts them under duress. (You can jump to this part in the song here.)
I’m certainly not musically trained, but I’m sure that’s probably true.
But he sure sounds passionate, doesn’t he?
[I want to say a special “thank you” to Ben Bechtel and David Barreca for reviewing this post and their musical leadership at our church. And thanks to everyone at Community Evangelical Free Church who serves in our music ministry. You help us encounter and live the gospel.]
* For an interesting podcast that discusses these issues, listen to the first hour of Greg Koukl’s interview with Doug Geivett on Stand to Reason. Bethel Church is named around 46:30, but you’ll need to listen earlier if you want to understand the context.